Esquire (USA)

THE SONG

- Celebrity Inventors · Musicians · BDSM · Celebrities · Pop Music · Music · Quincy Jones · PepsiCo · Paul Simon · Tina Turner · Billy Joel · Bruce Springsteen · Alexander Graham Bell · Prince · Sheila E. · New York · Johnny Cash · Nashville · Joni Mitchell · Stevie Wonder · Kenny Rogers · Steve Perry · Dionne Warwick · GZA · Ray Charles · John Oates · Humberto Gatica · Cyndi Lauper · Huey Lewis · Sheila E. · Graham Nash · Kenny Loggins · Steve Perry · Daryl Hall · Kim Carnes · Kim Carnes

on the cover of The Ge­nius of Ray Charles.

“I said to my­self, This is a good place to be in my life right at this mo­ment,” Oates says.

Jones pointed to more strips of tape on the floor with names writ­ten on them in blue. He told ev­ery­one th­ese were for the so­los, which would be recorded later, af­ter they laid down the cho­rus.

This was a lit­tle awk­ward. Any­one who didn’t see their name now un­der­stood that he or she had not been given a solo. One piece of tape said, daryl hall, with steve perry and michael jack­son on ei­ther side. The name of John Oates, Hall’s other half, was not writ­ten on a piece of tape on the floor.

“I can’t say I wasn’t a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed,” Oates says. “I was ob­vi­ously not wor­thy. But at the same time it was cool. When Daryl and I per­form to­gether, Daryl’s the lead singer—he’s the guy. And he’s got an amaz­ing voice, and of course he de­served it. Quincy and Lionel and Michael knew ex­actly what they were do­ing. You’re deal­ing with those three guys, you’re deal­ing with guys who re­ally know how to make a record.”

Jones just kept talk­ing, lay­ing out the plan for the night. Af­ter the cho­rus, the ris­ers would be dis­man­tled and they’d do the so­los. He turned and raised his hand to the con­trol booth.

“Can I hear it, Hum?”

Hum­berto Gat­ica, the engi­neer, played the demo that Jack­son, Richie, and Won­der had recorded—just those guys singing the cho­rus, plus ev­ery solo part. Some of the artists hadn’t lis­tened to the tape Stern­berg had sent, so they were hear­ing the tune for the first time. And a few of them weren’t that into it. Maybe more than a few.

“I don’t think any­body liked it,” Joel says. “There was a lot of, like, side-eye. There was a lot of look­ing at the other per­son, and I re­mem­ber Cyndi Lau­per say­ing, ‘It sounds like a Pepsi com­mer­cial.’ There was a cou­ple of chuck­les and a few grunts. That was pretty much the con­sen­sus, I think. But no­body was gonna say, ‘I’m not do­ing that.’ ”

11:45 p.m.

ones that make a bet­ter day, so let’s start giv­ing . . .”

But a lot of peo­ple seemed to be say­ing brighter

in­stead of bet­ter.

Some­one asked, “Is it brighter or bet­ter?”

“Which­ever one feels good,” Richie said. “Bet­ter or brighter? Brighter’s the one ev­ery­body’s lean­ing to, right?”

Ev­ery­one looked at their sheet mu­sic. Paul Si­mon, wear­ing a blazer over a check­ered shirt but­toned to the neck, con­ferred with Tina Turner and Billy Joel. “Seems like they’re mak­ing a change,” he said. “I think it should be brighter, all the way,” Joel said. “Me too. It felt like ev­ery­one was singing brighter.”

Spring­steen was look­ing at his mu­sic. “This is brighter?”

Huey Lewis leaned over his shoul­der. “No—bet­ter, yeah, that’s gonna be brighter now.”

Spring­steen: “Do I ever sing this?”

“No,” Lewis said. “It’s gonna be brighter. [Singing to Spring­steen] ‘It’s true, we make a brighter day.’ ”

Won­der seemed to be the lone hold­out. “Bet­ter

has more bite,” he said.

Jack­son had an idea for an­other change. He pro­posed adding some African-sound­ing lyrics to the cho­rus:

We are the world . . . Sha-lum!

We are the chil­dren . . . Sha-lin­gay!

Jack­son stood be­fore his peers and sang it him­self, a cap­pella. Jones kind of nod­ded. The en­sem­ble tried it, with and with­out the in­stru­men­tal track.

Then Won­der pre­sented the idea of singing a few lines in Swahili. A few peo­ple later said they could feel the en­ergy get­ting sucked out of the room.

Fi­nally, Ray Charles, still hold­ing a Sty­ro­foam cof­fee cup, his head­phones around his neck, jerked his head up and said to his old friend, loud enough for all to hear, “Ring the bell, Quincy. Ring the bell!”

The ge­nius had spo­ken. The sha-lum and Swahili ideas were put to rest. (The episode was chron­i­cled in great de­tail by jour­nal­ist David Bre­skin for his ex­cel­lent book­let We Are the World, pub­lished as a fundraiser soon af­ter.)

They took breaks, but the record­ing dragged on. “There was a ta­ble piled up with cold cuts—sand­wiches and stuff. Bruce and I kept wan­der­ing over to the deli ta­ble, hit­ting on a beer or a sand­wich,” Joel says. “It wasn’t like church, you know?”

But it must be said: When the group sang to­gether, hit­ting ev­ery note of the cho­rus Jack­son and Richie had writ­ten, full vol­ume, it felt like a new sound, some­thing hu­man ears had never ex­pe­ri­enced.

Henry Diltz was stand­ing next to Jones, see­ing it through his cam­era but hear­ing it with his whole body. “The heav­enly choir,” he calls it.

2:00 a.m.

He was in­vited, and although he never quite con­firmed, he did per­form at the Amer­i­can Mu­sic Awards, and it was Jones’s un­der­stand­ing that he was com­ing to the ses­sion. The great pro­ducer chose a solo line for Prince, right af­ter Jack­son’s line—a clever jux­ta­po­si­tion of two artists who were re­puted to de­test each other.

“There was a spot be­ing held for him,” says Stern­berg, master of the at­ten­dance list. “Sheila E. was try­ing to get him there.”

But Prince didn’t show. The next day, it was re­ported that he’d been hang­ing out at a restau­rant, Car­los ’N Char­lie’s, and that two of his body­guards had been ar­rested af­ter get­ting in a fight with some pho­tog­ra­phers.

“I think I got Prince’s line,” Huey Lewis says. Af­ter the cho­rus, Jones called Lewis over to where Jack­son was stand­ing and said, “Smelly, sing him the line.” And Jack­son sang: “But if we just be­lieve, there’s no way we can faaalll.” Lewis sang it back per­fectly, Jack­son laughed—a tiny, Jack­so­nian laugh—and Lewis smiled, raised his eye­brows, and said, “Can I go now?”

cho­rus and the so­los. At one point, Spring­steen sat alone on the ris­ers, nurs­ing a Bud­weiser. Jack­son and his per­sonal pho­tog­ra­pher, Sam Emer­son, were sit­ting nearby. Spring­steen got up and left the beer can. Emer­son said to Michael, “Hey, Mike, let me take your pic­ture with the beer can.”

Jack­son said, “No, no, I can’t do that.”

Emer­son said, “Come on! Who will ever see it?” They did the photo, Jack­son sit­ting straight­faced, hold­ing the Boss’s beer.

The next week, Emer­son says, it showed up in the New York Post. Emer­son’s agent called him and said, We’ve got big trou­ble. Emer­son just about fell to the floor. Who had leaked it? His agent said he would in­ves­ti­gate and call him back.

Turns out Jack­son had had his pub­li­cist, Nor­man Win­ter, plant it. As a joke.

Later, Tr­bovich saw a chance to ap­proach Dy­lan. Al­most twenty years be­fore this night, Tr­bovich was work­ing for Johnny Cash in Nashville. One night, Cash in­vited him over for din­ner at his house along the Cum­ber­land River. Tr­bovich showed up to find Joni Mitchell, Gra­ham Nash, Dy­lan, and a few oth­ers. Af­ter din­ner, a gui­tar was passed around, and Nash played a new song he was work­ing on, “Mar­rakesh Ex­press.”

So Tr­bovich went up to Dy­lan be­fore the so­los got un­der way and said, “You don’t re­mem­ber me . . . . ” He re­minded Dy­lan about that night back in the late six­ties. Dy­lan looked at him, nod­ded, and al­most smiled. “That was a lovely night,” he said. “You were there?”

4:00 a.m.

line of the song so he could get out of the way.

“I looked at the tal­ent that was com­ing that night, and I wanted to get out of the way early, be­cause when you start think­ing Ray Charles is com­ing in that lineup, there’s Spring­steen sit­ting over in the cor­ner, and there’s ev­ery ma­jor power singer in the world com­ing down that pipe—you know what? I wanted to get out of that bar­rage as soon as pos­si­ble,” he says. Still, he got the first line.

The soloists stood in a semi­cir­cle, each tak­ing a line, with the next per­son com­ing in on har­mony, then do­ing their own line, and so on. Af­ter Richie and Ste­vie Won­der opened the song, the next duo was Kenny Rogers and Paul Si­mon. Rogers was a big guy, six feet tall. The way he moved around was big, his hands were big, his beard was big.

Si­mon was five-foot-two.

Their voices, to­gether, cre­ated per­haps the great­est un­ex­pected alchemy on the record­ing: Si­mon’s avian, pitch-per­fect smooth­ness cut with Rogers’s drawl, ris­ing from some­where down un­der the floor, was the au­ral man­i­fes­ta­tion of what­ever ge­nius lived in­side the head of Quincy Jones.

The pro­gres­sion went left to right. Some­times peo­ple messed up and Jones had them start over. This meant that Richie sang his line more than any­one, and the peo­ple way down on the right—Kenny Log­gins, Steve Perry, Daryl Hall, Jack­son, Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lau­per, and Kim Carnes—got the fewest takes.

Hall says that it didn’t mat­ter: “I hate to say it, but I did my part, and that was the end of it. Some of th­ese peo­ple had to stick around and over­dub them­selves a num­ber of times, be­cause they couldn’t pull it off. I wasn’t ner­vous at all. I opened my mouth and sang. Plenty of peo­ple were ner­vous, and that sort of sep­a­rates the prover­bial men from the boys. I’m just a per­son who can do things. I open my mouth and sing. I left early. A lot of th­ese peo­ple had to stick around to get their stuff right.”

But some of the soloists took the mul­ti­ple takes as op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­per­i­ment with their line. Af­ter all, you got only one lit­tle line, and zero re­hearsal time, and you were likely singing har­mony with some­one you not only had never per­formed with but had never even met. So the only time to play with the de­liv­ery was live, on take af­ter take.

Dionne War­wick was ninth in the line of soloists. Af­ter the first cho­rus, she came in with “Send them your heart, so they know that some­one cares.” The first few times through, she sang it dream­ily, the War­wick of “Then Came You.” “Won’t you send them your heart . . .” But about the sev­enth time it was her turn to sing, she belted out the line like a burst of gun­fire: “Wel­l­lll, send ’em your heart!”

The lyrics Joel was given to sing did not move him in the same way. Jones was hand­ing out so­los— “Quincy was culling the herd”—and Joel felt hon­ored to be pulled aside. He stud­ied his line on the sheet mu­sic. Tina Turner would sing, “We are all a part of God’s great big fam­ily.”

“Then me: ‘And the truth, ya know, love is all we need.’ I looked at those lyrics, and I went, That’s what I get? ‘The truth, ya know’? And it was kind of a low part, too. I think a lot of peo­ple were try­ing to be vir­tu­osos when it came to their part. I know Cyndi did—Cyndi jumped into this whole other oc­tave. Ya yay ah-ya! But she can do that. She’s a great singer. I think ev­ery­body wanted to put a lit­tle fil­i­gree on it, so they jumped out. I looked at my part, and I thought, Don’t even try. Just hit the mark and shut up. It wasn’t a time to show off, for me.”

Joel and Turner were chat­ting, look­ing at their parts, and Turner put her hand on Joel’s shoul­der and told him she had a headache. He hap­pened to have an aspirin in his pocket, which he of­fered to Turner. “She said, No, I don’t take that! I only use home­o­pathic,” Joel says. “I told her, I don’t know what that means, but I ain’t got any.” to­ward the an­te­room. Hall had to take a leak and found Jack­son in there, too.

“Michael was in the bath­room, and he asked me if I minded that he had ripped off ‘No Can Do’ and made it into ‘Bil­lie Jean,’ ” Hall says. “Which, I don’t be­lieve it was a ripoff. He says, I hope you don’t mind that I stole it. And I was like, What? You did a good job of steal­ing it, be­cause I didn’t no­tice. I guess he was re­fer­ring to the in­tro, kind of a pump­ing bass line, like my bass line. That was in the bath­room. There weren’t that many places to go.”

Joel saw Jack­son wan­der­ing off fre­quently to “a re­mote part of the stu­dio, with this makeup cos­metic kit. And he kept, like, putting his nose on. Be­cause I think the tip of his nose was kind of fall­ing off, and he kept dab­bing at it with makeup or smear­ing it with some­thing.”

Win­ter, Jack­son’s pub­li­cist, a leg­endary guy who had worked with El­ton John and Dy­lan, was on the sound­stage, with all the other pe­riph­eral peo­ple. But Win­ter didn’t like be­ing a pe­riph­eral per­son. He kept hound­ing Har­riet Stern­berg, ask­ing to be let into the record­ing stu­dio, say­ing Michael wanted him in there. And then he started go­ing around loudly telling any­one who would lis­ten that Jack­son had writ­ten the whole song him­self, and that Richie—her boss’s client—had noth­ing to do with it.

Stern­berg alerted se­cu­rity that Win­ter was no longer wel­come, and he was es­corted out. “He was out of line,” Stern­berg says. “That was the one per­son I kicked off the sound­stage.” chron­i­cled the ses­sion for Life mag­a­zine, was wear­ing his sport coat and look­ing for mo­ments. Diltz was also hus­tling. Ben­son kept scowl­ing at him, but Diltz kept shoot­ing. There was also Emer­son, whom Jack­son had brought. “I’m sure Ben­son didn’t know what th­ese other cou­ple of dudes were do­ing there with their cam­eras, but he didn’t like it,” Diltz says.

By the time the so­los got down to the end of the row, Kim Carnes—“When weeee stand to­gether as oooooone!”—was wor­ried whether she could even sing her part. She had a si­nus in­fec­tion—there was no way she was telling any­one that—and the part she was given, the end of the bridge lead­ing back into the cho­rus, cli­maxed on a soar­ing note that would have been high in her vo­cal range even with­out a si­nus in­fec­tion. Plus, Lewis was har­mo­niz­ing on the line, while Lau­per backed them up with an aria of “yeah, yeah, yeah!”

Lau­per, who was next to her, worked with Carnes on her line un­til Carnes could nail it even through her cold. “Cyndi was in­cred­i­ble. She knew. I said, Oh my gosh, this is high for me, and I’ve got such a cold. And she said, Let’s fig­ure it out,” Carnes says.

4:30 a.m.

Tr­bovich didn’t get many breaks through­out the night. He and his crew had to cap­ture ev­ery­thing.

No­body knew what time it was. Tr­bovich was film­ing away, and then through the blur of ac­tiv­ity, Diana Ross—whose rep­u­ta­tion was more diva than cud­dly—walked over in her bare feet and said, “You haven’t eaten!” She was wear­ing one of the white cot­ton usa for africa sweat­shirts that were

handed out at the be­gin­ning of the night but that only she, Kenny Rogers, Ruth Poin­ter of the Poin­ter Sis­ters, and Al Jar­reau wore.

She tore her burger in half and gave half to Tr­bovich. “She said, Come here, come here. You haven’t eaten,” he says, one of his clear­est mem­o­ries of the night and one of the few he didn’t see through a lens. “I don’t wanna say she was—let’s just say she had been dif­fi­cult other times I had worked with her,” he says. But this was a dif­fer­ent kind of mo­ment, a dif­fer­ent Diana Ross.

1965

Be­fore he walked down to one of the CYO dances on Fri­day nights in Free­hold, New Jersey, the awk­ward kid who played gui­tar would first smear some Clear­asil on his acne. He didn’t have a lot of friends, un­less you counted the hard­scrab­ble dudes he played mu­sic with. The kid’s fa­ther, who worked at the Nescafé plant in town, would be sit­ting at the kitchen ta­ble, start­ing on a beer. They lived next door to a gas sta­tion. Af­ter the dance, the kid would usu­ally come home and stay up late—for a six­teen-year-old—play­ing his Kent gui­tar, sin­gle pickup, sun­burst de­sign, up in his room, un­plugged so he didn’t keep any­body awake. When his fa­ther got pissed off, you could see the dark­ness be­hind his eyes, and the dark­ness some­times kept the boy up for hours.

It could be a lonely town, Free­hold. That was like any town, of course. But Doug and Adele Spring­steen’s only son didn’t just live in a lonely town; he lived in a lonely house.

When he wasn’t play­ing his gui­tar, he lis­tened to records. (He had sold his lit­tle pool ta­ble to pay for the gui­tar, so that was out.) And in late 1965, he was usu­ally lis­ten­ing to one of the two al­bums that had been re­leased that year by Bob Dy­lan, High­way 61 Re­vis­ited and Bring­ing It All Back Home.

“How does it feel to be on your own?”

Bruce knew how it felt. And when he heard those songs, over and over, he knew Dy­lan knew how it felt, to need to get out of some place. Dy­lan, this kid Bruce would write in his life story more than fifty years later, “is the fa­ther of my coun­try.”

5:00 a.m.

Jones was talk­ing to Dy­lan. The pro­ducer was re­as­sur­ing him that he could do his solo. The un­usual nasal sound of Dy­lan’s voice was what made him Dy­lan, but in that room of rec­og­niz­able voices, he ap­peared ner­vous and un­sure. Even as Jones talked him through his solo, en­cour­ag­ing him, James In­gram, the su­per­smooth soul voice who was presently wear­ing a re­ally cool track­suit, strolled be­hind them. War­wick, whose vo­cal cords were made of honey, sat on the ris­ers nearby. Dy­lan crin­kled his eyes at Jones.

“Did some­body else sing it al­ready, on the track?” “Huh?”

“So I can hear it?”

Tr­bovich was film­ing all of this. And yeah, he says, Dy­lan was ner­vous. “But can I tell you some­thing? I swear: Most. Peo­ple. Do. Get ner­vous in front of a cam­era. I don’t care who they are. I re­mem­ber, the first Academy Awards I did, I was a stage man­ager. And I re­mem­ber Katharine Hep­burn dig­ging her nails into my hand be­fore she walked out there to this live au­di­ence.”

“Tell you what, Bob,” Jones said. “Ste­vie!” He and Dy­lan met Won­der over at a pi­ano, and Won­der played the chords of the song. All three of them tried to sing like Dy­lan, in uni­son. Even Won­der was do­ing his best Dy­lan im­pres­sion, right there, to Dy­lan, to show Dy­lan how to sing this part like Dy­lan.

“There’s a choice wehr makin’, wehr see-vin ah own lives. Iss choo we make a brigh­tah dee, jes yooo and meee.”

Dy­lan was rock­ing back and forth by now, singing along with him­self. Start­ing to feel it. Be­hind this lit­tle work ses­sion, the other play­ers milled around. In­gram, Jar­reau, Joel, Spring­steen, Richie. But when it came time for Dy­lan to record his part, Jones gave a lit­tle nod, and the room pretty much cleared. Only Won­der re­mained, at the pi­ano, as a kind of com­fort. And Tr­bovich, cam­era ever on his shoul­der.

Dy­lan stood, black leather jacket zipped up, one thumb hooked in a belt loop, hold­ing the sheet mu­sic up to his face, and sang it three or four times.

“Is that sorta it? Sorta like that?” Dy­lan asked, barely look­ing up.

Jones walked out and em­braced him, and for the first time that night Dy­lan’s face spread into a smile.

He took a deep breath and walked back over to where the ris­ers were. Spring­steen stepped for­ward.

Head­phones on, Spring­steen moved his hips in a work­ing­man’s dance, hear­ing the track as he waited to come in with his part. Jones later said Spring­steen was “one of the hard­est-work­ing cats I’ve ever met be­fore in my life. I kept wait­ing for him to get tired and sit down and rest. He kept say­ing, ‘Want me to do it again?’ ”

He sang the words as if a child were dy­ing in his arms right then and there, his sand­pa­per rasp trail­ing into some­thing like grief at the end of each line. When he’d fin­ished, he opened his eyes and shuf­fled away from the mic. His peers broke into ap­plause, es­pe­cially Diana Ross, sit­ting cross-legged on the pi­ano bench be­hind him. Spring­steen, a ham, flapped his hands, as if telling the crowd, “More! More!” Then, “Thank you, thank you!”

Jones said, “Well, that takes care of that.”

8:20 a.m.

Si­mon said, laugh­ing, to Jones, who had ar­ranged the strings on his 1973 song “Some­thing So Right.”

Peo­ple be­gan fil­ing out, re­unit­ing with what few of their fam­ily and friends re­mained. Carnes cracked the door open to catch a ride with a friend of hers who had been there all night. “I just re­mem­ber be­ing shocked that it was so light out­side, that the sun was up,” she says.

Jack­son, mean­while, stood clear across the stu­dio, against the back wall.

He asked Kra­gen if he could re­view the video footage be­fore the first bits of it were edited and re­leased to the press in the com­ing days as a one-minute clip. Stern­berg turned to Jack­son and said of course, and that she would send it to his home.

“What’s your ad­dress?” Stern­berg asked. He looked at her for a sec­ond, then said, “I just know how to get there through the back streets.” in­ter­viewed about the death of his friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor Kenny Rogers (who was also man­aged by Kra­gen) when he mused briefly about re-creat­ing “We Are the World” to raise money to fight COVID-19. “I must ad­mit,” he said, “ev­ery once in a while, God has to do some­thing to get us back on track.”

But he knew or­ga­niz­ing some­thing like that was un­likely. Cer­tainly not in the sud­den, hap­haz­ard, Sure, let’s-do-it, call-Quincy-and-Bruce way they’d done it in 1985. No, it’s a dif­fer­ent world.

“We came in like lit­tle kids on their first day of kin­der­garten,” Richie says, “and we were all kind of look­ing at each other, but we didn’t quite—‘Oh my God, there’s that kid over there, and there’s that other kid over there.’ Ev­ery­one was kind of freaked out stand­ing next to each other for a brief mo­ment, and then all of a sud­den we re­al­ized: It’s not about us! We’re ac­tu­ally us­ing our voice and our celebrity to save some peo­ple, and it’s about us giv­ing ev­ery­thing we have to save their lives. So I think the bril­liance of that evening was, we started out as forty-five artists look­ing at each other and go­ing, ‘Yeah, I’m fa­mous, and you’re fa­mous . . . . ’ We left as a fam­ily.”

Stern­berg that night had one last con­cern: phone calls to the press. She had re­porters lined up at The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los An­ge­les Times. From among the few peo­ple left in Stu­dio A, she asked for vol­un­teers. Richie could barely keep his eyes open. Ross de­clined.

Steve Perry, who had been the first one to ar­rive the night be­fore, said, “Okay!” And he and Stern­berg rode over to the of­fices of Kra­gen and Com­pany in West Hol­ly­wood.

Kra­gen looked around at the empty stu­dio. Cords snaked across the floor. Empty Bud­weis­ers and Sty­ro­foam cups and crum­pled pa­pers lit­tered ta­bles. He ad­justed his big glasses and put on his sport coat over his white usa for africa sweat­shirt. He walked out into the chilly light. It felt al­most strange to be out­side again, af­ter be­ing in the stu­dio for so many event­ful hours. He un­locked the door of his Jaguar and the alarm sys­tem be­gan blar­ing into the oth­er­wise quiet air—and he had no idea how to turn it off.

He got in the car and tried ev­ery­thing—the key, the alarm but­ton, noth­ing worked. And the en­gine wouldn’t start un­less he left the door open. He lived just a few miles away, in the Holmby Hills neigh­bor­hood, way down Sun­set. Screw it. He started the en­gine, put it in gear, and drove the whole way with his door open, the car’s lights flash­ing, and the alarm blar­ing.

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